IF you want a real beer bargain, steam along to the Great Northern pub in London Road, St Albans, where, for just £1.35 a pint or 68p a half, you can enjoy their well kept house beer GNE Bitter.

And what's so special about that? Only that it's produced by that fine and award-winning brewery Maulden's of Suffolk, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find their ale anywhere else at that price.

It must be what? five, six years since I'd been in the Great Northern when I popped in late on a Tuesday lunchtime but it hasn't changed a bit.

Only the neighbourhood, never that auspicious, has further declined now the Odeon next door is closed and derelict, and both the shops opposite are empty.

I used to work in newspaper offices above one of them, fitting my hours there into one very long 12-hour day from which I would emerge at about 10.50pm to rush across the road into the Great Northern for a large scotch then £1.50, now still a bargain £1.90, as are all the doubles. Late at night it used to be packed with drinkers taking advantage of the cheap prices, but the other lunchtime there were just three elderly men propping up the bar and a young couple with a sniffling toddler in a pushchair.

It is not the most salubrious of pubs a little shabby and down at heel and still has the same rather dingy carpet and gold painted wrought iron table bases complete with simpering cherubs I remember, but the table tops were clean and the net curtains (we Yorkshire lasses always judge a place by its nets) were white. I think it still has the same landlady, too, who always had a warm smile and a word for everyone.

A one-bar pub divided into two areas, in one a blaring television that is beyond intrusive the other has a small TV and fruit machine, and leads to a pool room. Not really my style of pub but, I deduce, a boon to those out of work or out of funds.